Great Places To Hike: The Timberline Trail Around Mt. Hood

The Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood is perhaps the crown jewel of Oregon’s hiking trails and a true bucket-list hiking destination in the Pacific Northwest. Featuring stunning views of Mt. Hood, lush green forests, and flowered meadows, the Timberline Trail offers a great and rewarding challenge for hikers and backpackers.

At approximately 41 miles long, and more than 10,000 feet of elevation gain, the Timberline Trail is a difficult hike and should not be attempted by first-time hikers. There are several difficult river crossings that require strong balance and coordination.

However, most well-prepared hikers will be able to finish the Timberline Trail in 3 to 4 days while still being able to enjoy the beautiful views of and around Mt. Hood. This is definitely a trail to challenge yourself and should be on your short list of great hikes.

Trail Review

There are several trailheads, or places where you can start the Timberline Trail:

I started at the Timberline Lodge, where you can park for free in the lower parking lot before heading to the trailhead, which is located on the southwest of the Lodge.

Starting the Trail at the Timberline Lodge

While there are no paid passes or permits for the Timberline Trail, a permit is required to stay overnight on the trail – you can fill out and self-issue these permits at any of the trailheads above.

Heading clockwise on the trail, you’ll likely come across a lot of hikers out for shorter day hikes, perhaps to Paradise Loop or Ramona Falls. I had a really good time meeting people and asking them their impressions about the trail.

For about the first 10 miles of the Timberline Trail, you will also be on the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail is well-maintained and will offer good views of Mt. Hood. At the 3.4-mile mark you will hit the Zig Zag River Crossing, the first major river crossing. Depending on the time of day and the time of year, you should expect fast-moving waters that are difficult to cross without getting wet.

I definitely recommend taking a detour from the trail at about Mile 4 for Paradise Park. This is a beautiful walk through flower-filled meadows and great views of the Three-Sisters Wilderness to the south of Mt. Hood.

Beautiful Paradise Park

At the 9-mile mark you should hit Sandy River, which is a difficult river crossing. It took me about 10 minutes to find a good spot to cross – you might have to spend some time finding the right place to cross without getting wet.

At about the 10-mile mark, you’ll come to Ramona Falls, a gorgeous natural waterfall that is a popular stopping spot for hikers. The closer you get to the Falls, the more the temperature drops – a refreshing stop before you cross a cool bridge as you continue on the trail.

Ramona Falls is a great place to stop for a break

A steep climb leads you out of Ramona falls through some lovely forest trails before you hit some ridge hiking that affords you great views of Mt. Hood, the Three Sisters Wilderness to the south, and even Portland to the west.

Throughout the Timberline Trail, you will hike along ridges that extend out from Mt. Hood down into the valleys. You will continuously follow the trails along these ridges down into valleys where you will have several river crossings to navigate. Hiking in mid-August, these rivers and creeks were moving fast due to glacier melt.

At mile 13 is Muddy Fork, which again depends on the time of day and year to determine the level of difficulty for crossing. I crossed in the morning and was surprised how high and fast the water was flowing. I did get my feet wet during this crossing.

At about 17 miles, you’ll emerge from some forest hiking and hike open ridge lines straight toward Mt. Hood, providing incredible views of the mountain. You will then hit the Cairn Basin section, where open meadows and ponds provide a nice oasis from forests and ridge lines.

Stone Cabin at Cairn Basin

The Wy East Basin Meadow is a popular camping area for many hikers, at about 20.4 miles into your hike. Here water is plentiful and there good opportunities to view Mt. Hood from this more open area. Coe Creek is your major river crossing at this point of the trail, and does rate as one of the more difficult crossings that I encountered.

At about mile 24, the descent starts down to the Eliot Creek crossing – here you will have plenty of views of Mt. Rainier to the north, as well as plenty of burnt forest. The Eliot Creek crossing is difficult to reach, as it sits at the bottom of a steep valley, but the crossing itself was not difficult.

You will then begin an arduous climb up to the Cloud Gap campground, which is a welcome rest after a series of steep switchbacks. The Cloud Gap campground has running water and a clean toilet, and proved to be a great place to stop for the night. It is a paid campground, however, if you choose to stay there.

Heading out of Cloud Gap, you will begin to climb above the tree line to hike closer to Mt. Hood. Here you will hit sandy terrain, so the going is rough. However, once you get above the tree line, the views are immense, and you really feel like you are climbing in the mountains. Here you are a companion with the mountain!

Looking north from the trail on Mt. Hood

You will continue to climb above tree line, crossing snow fields as you approach the high point, at 7,350 feet. This is a real symbolic moment – you do feel as though most of the hard part is over as you stand and take it the world below you.

Descending down from the side of the mountain and getting back into the forest, you feel like you are in a different world. Gone is the rocky, exposed trail and in its place are lush, green, flowered meadows and cool forests.

Newton Creek looms at about 34 miles; for me it was the last really challenging river crossing. There were logs going across the creek, however, and it was not difficult to get over. You will then cross more ridges, going up and down that are not terribly difficult before you get to Clark Creek, which was relatively simple to cross.

Shortly after Clark, you come across two beautiful waterfalls, including the Heather Canyon waterfall. They are both right on the trail and are very nice spots to collect water, wash off your face, and enjoy some great views both towards and away from Mt. Hood.

Waterfall at Heather Canyon

Your final river crossing is White River – in August the water was not high, and the more tricky part is finding the trail across the river valley. Keep an eye out for cairns, other hikers, and footprints and you should have no trouble finding the trail out of the river valley as you start your final climb back to the Timberline Lodge.

Your final climb is a 1000-ft climb over 2 miles. However, the most difficult part is the trail itself – you’ll have to push through sinking sands that don’t give any firm footing. But the views of Mt. Hood, along with a first glimpse of the Timberline Lodge, provide some extra motivation and adrenaline to get to the end.

River Crossings (Going Clockwise From Timberline Lodge)

  • Zigzag River
  • Sandy River
  • Muddy Fork
  • Ladd Creek
  • Coe Creek
  • Eliot Creek
  • Newton Creek
  • Clark Creek
  • White River
River Crossings can be difficult depending on glacier melt

There are many variables that may change the difficulty of the river crossings on the Timberline Trail. Depending on the time of day, time of year, and overall snowpack, you could easily cross each of these rivers, or really struggle without assistance. I would really recommend checking trail reports on AllTrails and other websites as close to your scheduled trip as possible to get a good idea of what you might in store for.

The Best Part Of The Hike

My favorite part of the Timberline Trail was Paradise Park, reached by a short loop off the Timberline Trail. If you are hiking counter clock-wise from the Timberline Lodge, the Paradise Loop trail is about 4 miles into the hike. The Paradise Loop adds perhaps 400 feet to your hike, but is well worth the detour.

Wildflowers in Paradise Park

Paradise Park features a beautiful hillside of purple and white flowers and raises to hill that provides an expansive view of the Three Sisters Wilderness and Mount Jefferson to the south, with Mt. Hood behind you. This is a great spot to take your first break of the day and enjoy some incredible views.

The Most Difficult Part Of The Hike

If you are hiking counter clock-wise from the Timberline Lodge, the most difficult part of the hike might very well be the final two miles. This is a climb of about 1000 feet over two miles, so the grade isn’t that terrible. What is most grueling is the terrain – a thick sand that makes each step an arduous one.

At the end of a 40-mile hike, you will be low on energy and strength. This final climb will test your physical and mental fortitude – it certainly did mine. But the sight of the Timberline Lodge and the finish line is a great boost to get you to the finish – just keep working.

One Piece Of Gear I’m Glad I Brought

The one piece of gear that I am glad that I had with me was my Foxelli trekking poles. I normally do not hike with trekking poles, but having researched this trail beforehand, I knew that there were several river crossings that could be difficult.

My trekking poles were a big help crossing the handful of river crossings that required wading through fast water. I was able to use my poles to keep more than two points of contact with the ground, making my crossings more manageable.

One Piece Of Gear I Wish I Had Brought

One defining feature of the Timberline Trail is the sandy soil that makes up much of the trail itself. Some parts of the trail are akin to hiking on a beach, and it doesn’t take long before the sand and small rocks get into your shoes or boots.

I wore Altra Lone Peak 4 Trail Runners on this trip, and I fought with sand and rocks in my shoes the entire time. As such, I wish I had brought some ankle gaiters, to at least keep some of the sand out of my shoes. It would have made a big difference in my overall comfort levels. If you are planning on hiking the Timberline Trail in shoes, I recommend some good ankle gaiters.

Suggested Gear

As with any hike, when you start the Timberline Trail you will need a complete hiking gear setup; this is a multi-day experience that will require adequate gear, food, and water. As always, you should start with the “Ten Essentials” of Hiking.


For the Timberline Trail, you’ll want a tent that can protect you from bad weather or a reliable hammock system. There are several suitable campsites along the trail that allow for both types of shelter.

I brought my hammock system and a tarp as part of my shelter, and had two good nights of sleep. I stayed at the Ramona Falls campground on the first night and the Cloud Gap campground on the second night and there were plenty of suitable trees to set up on.


The Timberline Trail is a demanding physical challenge, so you will want to bring about 2 pounds of calorie-dense food for each day you expect to be out on the trail.

Here are some meal ideas I enjoyed:


  • Power Oatmeal: Pack instant oatmeal (I like steel-cut oats), powdered milk, wheat germ, almond butter, raisins or other dried fruit, and some brown sugar in a Ziploc bag, and just add hot water on the trail.
  • Carnation Instant Breakfast (Amazon Link)

Lunch and Dinner


  • Pop Tarts – My go-to sweet treat on hiking trips. I try to avoid sugar, but I’ll always have some Pop Tarts in my pack.
  • Protein Bars – RXBars are some of my favorites.
  • Energy Chews – A little more sugar than I like, but you can suck on these during the hike and they just seem to help your morale.

If you want to skip preparing your meals, you can always take along freeze-dried meals that offer a good amount of calories and don’t take up much space or weight. I’d recommend Peak Refuel meals.


There are plenty of water sources on the Timberline Trail so long as you have a good water filter, along with some sort of water storage/carrying system. I used a single 1L Smart Water bottle with my Sawyer Squeeze water filter and had plenty to drink.


Weather conditions can change quickly hiking in the shadow of large mountains; having some level of protection against extreme weather is vital. I ended up taking a rain coat to the Timberline Trail, and did not have to use it.

However, it did rain lightly during my first night on the trail, despite a forecast of clear skies. You never know when you might need a little extra protection against the elements.

At the very minimum, here’s a list of clothing you should bring with you on the Timberline Trail:

  • Warm Jacket – Puffy jackets can be very lightweight but provide warmth – day or night. Colombia’s Voodoo Falls 590 Jacket is a good option.
  • Baselayer Top and Bottom – I like to wear synthetic, moisture-wicking baselayer when I go to sleep and early in the morning. Even though the evenings were pleasant on the Timberland Trail, I used my baselayer to stay warm as I slept.
  • Long-sleeve shirt – One that can wick moisture, let you roll up your sleeves, and help repel sun is a good option. The ATG by Wrangler Long-Sleeved Shirt is what I wore, and it kept me cool and comfortable.
  • Running Shorts – I took Souke Running Shorts on the Timberline Trail – they were comfortable, had an inner liner, and dried quickly when they got wet.
  • Buff Neck Gaiter – A must-have for any hike. Works as a gaiter, a hat, and more. (Amazon Link)
  • Merino Wool Socks – As always, I took Darn Tough low-cut socks. They were extremely helpful with my river crossings, as I was not as worried about them getting wet as I would other socks.
  • Beanie – I love to wear a beanie at night to keep my bald head warm at night, and this trip was no different.
  • Hiking Boots/Shoes – As mentioned above, I took my Altra Lone Peak 4 Trail Runners on the Timberland Trail, and they did a great job.


The Timberline Trail does currently allow campfires, and the weather was warm enough that I was not in any danger from cold or wet conditions. However, I did have my Bic lighter with me, as I usually do.

First Aid

I used my Adventure Medical Kit .5 on the Timberline Trail. This small, lightweight kit has bandages, ibuprofen, tape, and other essential items for treating minor injuries.


For the Timberline Trail, I took a Swiss-Army knife with me, and it proved helpful to cut some tape. Otherwise, I didn’t have a great need for it, but it is an essential item nonetheless.

Sun Protection

You should always, even in the winter, have protection from the sun available to you during your hikes. On the Timberline Trail, you will hike on exposed ridges for large portions of your trip. Sun protection is necessary. Don’t forget sunglasses, sunscreen, and clothing that can protect you from the sun.


My navigation tools for the Timberline Trail were a downloaded map and GPS on my Google Pixel 3 phone. While this trail is well-established and there are a large number of hikers on the trail, I was glad to have GPS capabilities with me.


Hiking at night is never fun, and most hikers try to avoid it as much as possible. However, if you are forced to do so, a headlamp is essential. Likewise, if your day runs long and you set up camp in the dark, having a headlamp that keeps your hands free to set up your tent or cook dinner is essential.

I would recommend the Black Diamond Storm Headlamp. (Amazon Link)

Insulated Butt Pad or Lightweight Chair

It’s a great feeling to sit down to eat lunch or at then end of a hike and just relax. What’s not so great, however, is sitting on a hard rock, or on the wet ground.

That’s why an insulated sitting pad or chair is such a good item to bring on a hike. I used my butt pad every time I stopped for lunch or a break, and when I set up camp at night. The butt pad I enjoy is the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat Cushion HERE.

Inflatable Camping Pillow

An inflatable pillow is not something that every hiker carries in his or her pack. Some choose to sleep without a pillow, or use a coat or shirt as a pillow. However, an inflatable pillow can greatly improve your hiking experience.

I actually used my pillow for my legs – I placed it under my knees as I slept in my hammock to prevent them from hyper extending. I’ve found that this is a great way to sleep more comfortably in a hammock. One of my favorites is the TREKOLOGY Ultralight Aluft 1.0, which you can find HERE.


So there you have it – my review of the Timberline Trail. I would have had no complaints had I had less trouble with the sandy trail – at time it made hiking difficult, especially at the end of the hike coming back to the Timberline Lodge.

There are so many great views and spots to enjoy the ecosystem around the mountain on this trail. As you make a water crossing, you can look up towards Mt. Hood and see exactly where that water is coming from, and then look the other way to see exactly where it is going. It provides great perspective to the trail.

Another great view of Mt. Hood

If you enjoy spending a few days on the trail and feel good about completing a difficult hike, I would definitely recommend the Timberline Trail. It’s an amazing hike well worth your time!

Happy Trails!

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